Coachella: The Good, the Bad, and the Sandy

The other day I saw a person with a Coachella wristband – the true mark of a festival fiend. I turned to my friend and said, “Look, a survivor.” Coachella is a fantastic time if you love music festivals, hipsters, and camping. All in one place for three days straight (four, if you count the night you arrive and set up your tent).

The Good

The line-up. Though this is subjective and varies from year to year, Coachella tends to have top-tier acts even as sub-headliners. They also have a nice variety of genres represented, to satisfy different ages and musical tastes.

The Coachella crowd during an evening set.
The Coachella crowd during an evening set.

The size. Though Coachella valley is huge, the majority of the festival grounds are for campers and tents. The actual space for the bands to play is actually much smaller. So unlike a festival like Lollapalooza where you can end up being 5 miles behind the crowd for the main act, the capacity at Coachella is much smaller so you can get a pretty intimate show despite being at a major festival.

The art. Aside from great music, Coachella is a fantastic place to check out unique art installations. You’ll find giant moving robots, dragons that shoot fire, and digital sculptures that will keep you entertained even when you’re taking a break from the live music.

The art installations at Coachella move, grow, and change throughout the festival.
The art installations at Coachella move, grow, and change throughout the festival.

The environment. Like any festival, you’ll find a variety of foods scattered around the grounds. There are also a good bit of activities to do around the grounds, like beer gardens, yoga classes, silent headphone dance parties, photo booths, and general hipstering around. It’s different – very relaxed, and communal. You feel a kinship with the other dirty, sweaty people around.

The Bad

The stage set-up. Coachella is a giant desert. There are no trees and as mentioned above, the acts perform in a relatively small area. As a result, the music has nowhere to go but out and the sound frequently bleeds from one stage to the other.

The line to get in. Getting into Coachella is like being stuck in 5 hours of traffic. The earlier you get there the better because you do not want to set up a tent in the dark. But you probably will, along with thousands of other people who drove up to the entrance in the afternoon.

Festival worker spraying the hot crowd with water.
Festival worker spraying the hot crowd with water.

The heat. I don’t know if you’ve ever spent 4 days in a desert, but take it from me, it’s a painfully hot experience. Even if you stayed up with friends until the wee hours but by 7 am, your ass is going to be baking in your tent. You will be drenched in sweat all day and so will everyone around you. I drank so much water the first day at Coachella that I actually got sick. That’s right. My body began to reject water.

The showers. The showers at Coachella are yet another line you have to put up with. Though they are actually decent facilities that are relatively well maintained, you have to hike quite a ways to get to and from them and then wait in line with other people who only want to talk about whether Daft Punk will make a surprise appearance. You have to time your showers to the times of day where there will be fewer people, or you may eventually decide to forego showering altogether.

The Sandy

The year I went to Coachella, after a blistering first day, we were treated to a good old-fashioned sandstorm. There was so much sand in the air that it was overcast on a cloudless, sunny day. By the time we got back to the campgrounds, many tents had been blown away, others had been buried in a thin layer of sand as though they had been abandoned for months. It was awful, and yet, there’s something undeniably memorable about wearing bandanas and sunglasses while watching Wu Tang Clan perform in the middle of the night in our own disgusting gravel pit.

Wu Tang